Radiating Kipling's brilliance

Last Updated 16 January 2010, 10:40 IST

With Rudyard Kipling at the helm, and an introduction by Ruskin Bond, it is but expected that the anthology will be a great one.

The collection lives up to expectations, however high they may be. For readers familiar with Kipling, the writing is dear and familiar, and for those who aren’t, the writing is possibly new and exciting, in the personal narrative style unique to Kipling. With only seven stories in it, the collection is fantastic, each story drawing you deeper and deeper into the days of the British Raj, an introduction and culmination, in each story. Not exactly ghost stories, each piece deals with the unexplained, a fantastic and twisted narrative of what may have been. The locales are familiar, and detailed descriptions of the British days in Simla, Rajasthan and East India, all play its part in enthralling the reader.

It begins with ‘The Phantom Rickshaw’, the strange tale of Jack and Mrs Wessington, a tale of love and longing gone horribly wrong. It makes you wonder whether the protagonist was in his right mind while narrating the tale, or whether it really happened; whether Agnes Wessington did haunt the poor man, unable to let go of her one true love.

‘My Own True Ghost Story’ is easily the most familiar in the collection. The piece describes in dreadful detail the horror of hearing things and seeing them, without understanding what they are. Indeed, the horror is familiar to anyone who has ever experienced anything close to paranormal, or what they believe to be paranormal.

‘The Man Who Would Be King’ and ‘The Return of Imray’ may be familiar to the readers of Kipling. They have consistently been accounted among his best works over the years. As a part of this collection though, they bring to the book two very different styles and plots, each a unique view of the fear that is inspired in humans, for two completely different reasons.

However, in my mind, the gem of the collection is ‘The Strange Ride of Morrowbie Jukes’, a story chilling in its intensity and unmatchable in the despair that it evokes. The story isn’t so much about the paranormal, but the real and tangible, a fantastic rendition of what may very well be true. A personal narrative of an Englishman, stuck in a ‘Village of the Dead’ the story is clearly the best of the collection. It reveals what is commonly hidden — a twisted view point of the Indian caste system and all that it implies. While the story may not be entirely accurate, it astounds the reader with the possibility that it could have happened, and could be happening even today in many parts of the country. The character of Gunga Dass is probably the most striking in the entire set of stories; he comes across as a vile and desperate person, a sketch of the barest skeleton of a man’s character.

While the book is worth reading, what makes it worth owning is the introduction by Ruskin Bond. As an author who knows India intimately, and who has used similar locations and backdrops for many of his stories, Bond brings to the book a perspective that would otherwise not have been seen very clearly. He provides the context and background to many of the stories, making them even more pleasurable to read. Thus, while Kipling makes the diamonds, Bond provides the setting.

Rudyard Kipling
Penguin, 2009,
pp 170, Rs 199

(Published 16 January 2010, 10:37 IST)

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